Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goals: Update for 2011

The last day of  2011 and it’s time to do a goals progress update.  How did I do?  Did I reach my goals? 

1.    Get published.
Well, I feel like a broken record:  rejected again.  After a major rewrite of the article, we sent it to an International Reading Association publication and were rejected.  (With some pretty harsh comments from one of the reviewers, I might add.)  We’re at a little bit of a stand-still right now.  Do we lower our standards and try for publication in a state journal instead of a national journal?  Do we do another re-write?  Do we give up?

2.    Read more books.  (Goal of 50 in 2011)
Fifty-nine!  I’ve read 59 books this year.  Even if you take out the six picture books, I still exceeded the goal!  Here’s a graphic of my reading history for the past three years:

I still have a few reviews to write and post from books I’ve read in the past week.  I hope to get those up the first week of January.

3.    Blog more often.  (Goal of three times per month)
Ugh, I slipped up on this one and only blogged twice in November!  I made it for ten months either meeting or exceeding three posts per month, but blew it in November.  However, I had 56 posts this year and if you AVERAGE my posts for the year, it’s 4.66 per month.  So, I’d say that’s still a success!

That’s it for 2011!  I’m still thinking of my 2012 goals and have an idea of my One Little Word too!  More on that soon.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Where She Went (2011) is a sequel to If I Stay (2009), which is about 17-year-old Mia whose family is killed in a car accident that she survives.  Mia’s boyfriend, Adam, and best friend, Kim, help her through the difficult recovery and grief at losing her parents and brother.

Fast forward three years, and much has happened.  Mia has gone to Julliard and is an aspiring cello virtuoso.  Adam and his band, Shooting Star, have made it to the big time, with their first album going double-platinum.  Adam narrates this story as his band’s second album is released and they begin touring.  He is still dealing with Mia’s rejection from three years ago, just after she moved to New York to attend Julliard.  He’s had virtually no contact with her, but cannot move on.  He suffers greatly and is definitely a lost soul after going through so much to save Mia and help her recover to only lose her anyway.

Beautifully written and fast-paced, the second half of this novel is amazing when Adam and Mia reconnect and attempt to recover from tragedy. 

Themes:  loss, reconciliation, relationships, dreams/goals, unconditional love

Friday, December 9, 2011

Writing, Technology and Teens

In 2008, the Pew Internet Trust released a report titled, Writing, Technology and Teens.  While the study is a few years old, I was pleased to see that “93% of teens say they write for their own pleasure.”  They also have a great graphic about writing done outside of school.

Here’s the list of their findings:

The full report can be found here.  This really got me thinking about my Writing Workshop block and am I doing enough authentic writing.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

In the summer of 1936, Twelve-year-old Abilene Tucker returns to Manifest, Kansas, her father’s hometown.  The problem is her father isn’t with her.  After years of a nomadic life, Gideon feels a young lady needs a home, so he sends her to Manifest to live with friends of the family, except Abilene has never met any of them.  She’s excited to find out about Gideon’s childhood and to see the town he has described so many times.  However, much has changed since Gideon left in 1918; the town doesn’t seem like the Manifest of Gideon’s stories.  Abilene meets townspeople and uncovers Manifest’s history.  Alternating chapters flashback to 1918, and the war, the townspeople (mostly immigrants) and the local mine which was the primary employer at the time.  Through these flashbacks, Abilene learns all about Gideon, Manifest and the true meaning of home.

2011 Newberry Medal Winner  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Drowning in Data (and paperwork)

What’s that phrase being bandied about right now, Data rich and information poor?  I sometimes feel that way.  We have state standardized assessments, district quarter assessments, unit common assessments, tests, quizzes, homework, classwork….We have the data, what do we do with it?

One thing is fill out reports with it.  We have spreadsheets that are 14 pages long with all the data we could ever hope to know about a student!  Apparently, my district isn’t the only one in this predicament.  There was an article in the Washington Post last week about this very topic.  Even the title, Paperwork Burden Plagues Teachers, tells the story.

So we have the data, we have a report, now what do we do with it all?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ducks Quack, Eagles Soar

My Principal is good at reading her staff.  She knows when we need a pick-me-up.  This is what she shared with us today...

No one can make you serve customers well….that’s because great service is a choice. Harvey Mackay, a business motivational speaker, tells a wonderful story about a cab driver who proved this point.

He was waiting in line for a ride at the airport. When a cab pulled up, the first thing Harvey noticed was that the taxi was polished to a bright shine. Smartly dressed in a white shirt, black tie, and freshly pressed black slacks, the cab driver jumped out and rounded the car to open the back passenger door for Harvey.

He handed my friend a laminated card and said: ‘I’m Wally, your driver. While I’m loading your bags in the trunk I’d like you to read my mission statement.’

Taken aback, Harvey read the card. It said: Wally’s Mission Statement: To get my customers to their destination in the quickest, safest and cheapest way possible in a friendly environment….

This blew Harvey away. Especially when he noticed that the inside of the cab matched the outside. Spotlessly clean!

As he slid behind the wheel, Wally said, ‘Would you like a cup of coffee? I have a thermos of regular and one of decaf.’ My friend said jokingly, ‘No, I’d prefer a soft drink.’ Wally smiled and said, ‘No problem. I have a cooler up front with regular and Diet Coke, water and orange juice.’ Almost stuttering, Harvey said, ‘I’ll take a Diet Coke.’

Handing him his drink, Wally said, ‘If you’d like something to read, I have The Wall Street Journal, Time, Sports Illustrated and USA Today..’

As they were pulling away, Wally handed my friend another laminated card, ‘These are the stations I get and the music they play, if you’d like to listen to the radio.’

And as if that weren’t enough, Wally told Harvey that he had the air conditioning on and asked if the temperature was comfortable for him. Then he advised Harvey of the best route to his destination for that time of day. He also let him know that he’d be happy to chat and tell him about some of the sights or, if Harvey preferred, to leave him with his own thoughts…

‘Tell me, Wally,’ my amazed friend asked the driver, ‘have you always served customers like this?’
Wally smiled into the rear view mirror. ‘No, not always. In fact, it’s only been in the last two years. My first five years driving, I spent most of my time complaining like all the rest of the cabbies do. Then I heard the personal growth guru, Wayne Dyer, on the radio one day.

He had just written a book called You’ll See It When You Believe It. Dyer said that if you get up in the morning expecting to have a bad day, you’ll rarely disappoint yourself. He said, ‘Stop complaining! Differentiate yourself from your competition. Don’t be a duck. Be an eagle. Ducks quack and complain. Eagles soar above the crowd.’

‘That hit me right between the eyes,’ said Wally. ‘Dyer was really talking about me. I was always quacking and complaining, so I decided to change my attitude and become an eagle. I looked around at the other cabs and their drivers.. The cabs were dirty, the drivers were unfriendly, and the customers were unhappy. So I decided to make some changes. I put in a few at a time. When my customers responded well, I did more.’

‘I take it that has paid off for you,’ Harvey said.

‘It sure has,’ Wally replied. ‘My first year as an eagle, I doubled my income from the previous year. This year I’ll probably quadruple it. You were lucky to get me today. I don’t sit at cabstands anymore. My customers call me for appointments on my cell phone or leave a message on my answering machine. If I can’t pick them up myself, I get a reliable cabbie friend to do it and I take a piece of the action.’
Wally was phenomenal. He was running a limo service out of a Yellow Cab. I’ve probably told that story to more than fifty cab drivers over the years, and only two took the idea and ran with it. Whenever I go to their cities, I give them a call. The rest of the drivers quacked like ducks and told me all the reasons they couldn’t do any of what I was suggesting.

Wally the Cab Driver made a different choice. He decided to stop quacking like ducks and start soaring like eagles.

Ducks Quack, Eagles Soar.

Have a nice day, unless you already have other plans.

How will you serve your customers (read:  students, parents, colleagues) today?!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Mediactive by Dan Gillmor

How has media publication changed?  How will it continue to change?  As we move further into the digital age, we will be creators and producers of the news, rather than passive receivers.  Gillmor offers many insights into media and journalism in an evolving climate from managing your online presence, to being a skeptical consumer of information, to trustworthy media/journalism and plenty of ideas and suggestions for improvement. 

All of this begs the question, what are we teaching in schools in order to prepare our students to face the media of the future?

Author Dan Gillmor is the founding director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes an online column for the Guardian newspaper.  He also runs the website

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

The Great Gatsby meets Romeo and Juliet…this historical fiction novel is set in New York City and surrounding suburbs during prohibition.  Of course, girl falls in love with boy, boy falls in love with girl, then they discover they are from rival families.  The story was moderately engaging, but I was distracted by the lack of historical accuracy.  I don’t believe young ladies in 1929, would have behaved in the way these characters are portrayed.  Apparently this is the first in a series and I believe the second historical fiction series for this author, her first being The Luxe.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Goals Update: July - September

Here we are, beginning the fourth quarter of 2011 and it’s time to do a goals progress update and see how I’m doing on achieving my goals.  Here’s the break down for third quarter.

  1. Get published.
This one is still in progress.  I’m over the sting of a second rejection of our article.  Now my colleague and I have done a major overhaul and are going to shop it around to another publication.

  1. Read more books.  (Goal of 50 in 2011)
Forty-nine!  That’s right, 49 books read.  I am going to blow this goal out of the water!  My average is 5.4 books per month.  I’ll admit that six of these books were picture books, but even if you subtract those from the list, I’ve read 43 books and will definitely meet exceed my goal!  

  1. Blog more often.  (Goal of three times per month)
I’m still kickin’ it on this one.
July = 4 posts
August = 8 posts
September = 7 posts

We’ll see how long I can keep it up now that school is back in session…

There you have it, my goals update for the third quarter of 2011.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Who are we leaving behind?

A friend recently loaned me his copy of the August Christian Science Monitor because the cover story was about education.  The article was quite insightful and I'm ashamed to say on a topic I'd not thought about:  gifted education. 

In this high-stakes accountability environment, our gifted students are often forgotten.  I know in most districts where I have worked, our focus has been on the most at-risk (or ask my current employer says:  at promise) students.  But, what about our gifted learners?  Are they being pushed to their fullest potential?  Are we challenging our gifted learners?  Shouldn't we consider all students, not just the sub-group/reporting category that may prevent a school from making AYP?

I'd encourage you to read the article here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Making Thinking Visible

This professional text is from Harvard's Project Zero.  It is filled with thinking routines for classroom use along with case studies and a DVD. These are excellent resources for any and all content areas and grade levels.  The book is organized in a very handy way with the routines grouped by use - before, during and after the learning occurs.  I have used these routines with students and adults, which great success!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What if school were fun?

A few months ago, I read a tweet from Kylene Beers linking to this video:

Beers asked about what we could do to make school routines more fun.  What do you think?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell

Farm Girl, Skunk Girl, Haystack Girl, Goat Girl…you pick the name and fourteen-year-old Janie has heard it.  She thought it would be cool to live on a farm, but once she gets to high school, it’s definitely NOT cool!  It doesn’t help that her friends from middle school are all spread out and she doesn’t know anyone in her lunch period.  At least she has one class with her best friend, Sarah, and they get to do a project on a great woman in history.  This leads Janie and Sarah to a local lady who taught blacks how to read and write during the Civil Rights Movement.  Janie learns just what it means to live big.

This is very much a coming of age novel about Janie figuring out who she is and what she stands for.  It would be appropriate for middle school readers as there’s no foul language, drug use, sexual encounters, etc.

Themes:  friendship, discovery, standing up for what’s right

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Change: Part Two

Yesterday, I wrote about changes and the implementation bridge that teachers must cross when learning something new.  “When implementers make it across the bridge, self and task concerns should decrease while impact concerns should increase.”  So if there’s truly fidelity to the implementation, teachers are less concerned about how the change will impact them and most concerned about how the changes will impact students’ learning.

So, how do I support teachers where they are and help them move forward?

Levels of Use
Level 0 Non-use – no involvement, not doing anything related to change.
Level I Orientation – learning about, exploring requirements, evaluating value
Level II Preparation - preparing to implement, asks questions, attends meetings, considers innovation/change
Level III Mechanical Use – begins to use curriculum, first attempt is disjointed, scheduling is inefficient, refers to guides often
Level IV Routine – pieces are coming together, can predict what happens next, moves through lessons smoothly, focus remains on the process

Many teachers will start at Level III since participation at professional staff development training is mandatory.  The key seems to be helping teachers move out of their discomfort.  This could be co-planning with teachers, co-teaching lessons, etc.  

A large part will also be monitoring implementation and providing constructive feedback.  This could be via classroom visits or debriefing of lessons together.

Hall, G. E., Hord, S. M. (2011).  Implementation:  Learning builds the bridge between research and
      practice.  JSD, 32(4), 52-57.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


“Change cannot occur without professional learning.” Whoo, hoo! This will keep Instructional Coaches in business for a long time! Change is always happening in education and with change comes new learning, discomfort and maybe obstacles. How do we support teachers (and students) in developing new understandings and acquiring new skills?

Part of my role as an Instructional Coach is to support teachers’ implementation of new curriculum and improved instructional practices through job-embedded professional development. Hopefully, I can be the bridge to forge the implementation dip that occurs when one learns something new. This leads me to the Concerns Based Adoption Model (CBAM) as a tool to assess progress and support implementation efforts.

First, I have to be aware of how the change will impact teachers; thus, the personal/affective aspects of change. Where are my teachers on this continuum?

Stages of Concern:
Awareness – not aware of change or doesn’t want to learn it.
Information – heard of change, needs more information.
Personal – main concern is how change will affect me.
Management/Task – main concern is about the scheduling, tasks to be one, management.
Consequence/Impact – main concern is how to make the change work for student success.
Collaboration – main concern is how to make it work even better by collaborating with colleagues
Refocusing – seeking out continuous improvement to make the change even better.

Typically, teachers’ comments in meetings and even in hallways, give insight to where they are on this continuum. I have seen teachers move several stages in one professional development session. I have seen other teachers camp out on one stage for a while. My goal is to meet them where they are. Tomorrow, I’ll post about how to help teachers move forward.

Hall, G. E., Hord, S. M. (2011). Implementation: Learning builds the bridge between research
and practice. JSD, 32(4), 52-57.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Happy School Year!

Today is our first day of school with students and I am so excited for this year. My district has ambitious plans for more rigorous curriculum, enhanced instruction and increased student success.

We know that all students can learn!
We believe in our students!
We won’t give up on our students!

Here’s hoping your first day is grand! (And if you've been in school a while, here's hoping your year is off to a fantastic start!)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Brain Rules by John Medina (Rules 9-12)

Here are the final four rules:

9.      Sensory integration
a.      Stimulate multiple senses (multimodal reinforcement) at once to increase learning.
                                                    i.     Multimedia – kids learn better from words and pictures than words alone.
                                                   ii.     Temporal contiguity – kids learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented at the same time
                                                 iii.     Spatial contiguity – kids learn best when corresponding words and pictures are presented near each other on the page/screen
                                                 iv.     Coherence – kids learn better when extra material is left out
                                                   v.     Modality – kids learn better from animation and narration than from animation and on-screen text – Watch those PowerPoint slides! (153-154)
b.      Smell can stimulate emotions and impact memory.
10.      Vision
a.      The more visual the input, the more likely to be recognized and recalled. (170)
b.      Text is less capable than pictures because the brain sees words as lots of tiny pictures. (170)
c.      In using visuals, pay attention to: color, orientation, size and motion.
d.      Less text, more pictures – graphics/visuals are a more efficient way of delivering information than text. (175)
11.      Gender
a.      Females use both hemispheres of the brain when speaking and processing.  Males use only one side.
b.      Emotions are useful, but males and females process some emotions differently. (187)  Single gender classrooms, anyone?
c.      Males and females respond differently to stress.
12.      Exploration
a.      We are constantly learning – we discover and explore our whole lives.
b.      We learn to imitate and recognize as infants.
c.      Some regions of our brain are always changing – growing new connections, strengthening existing connections, etc. (197)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Brain Rules by John Medina (Rules 5-8)

Here are the next four rules - with lots of classroom instructional implications.

5.      Short-term memory
a.      Lengthen short-term memory by repeating information at timed intervals.  “Spaced learning is greatly superior to massed learning.” (76)
b.      “Content is stored separately from its context/container.” (80)
c.      The way you code information as it enters the brain has a great deal to do with how you remember it later.
d.      Memory works best if the environmental conditions at retrieval are the same as they were at encoding.
e.      To improve learning – “liberal use of relevant real-world examples embedded in the information, constantly peppering main learning points with meaningful experiences.” (87)
6.      Long-term memory
a.      Working memory includes
                                                    i.     Auditory – linguistic, phonological
                                                   ii.     Visual – images, spatial input
                                                 iii.     Executive – keeps track of activities
b.      We have different types of retrieval systems and we what we use depends on the type of information and how long ago we learned it.
c.      Elaborative rehearsal (repetition) creates robust retrieval.  Thinking and processing immediately after learning occurs enhances memory.
d.      Deliberately re-expose yourself to information in fixed, spaced intervals if you want the best retrieval. (99)
7.      Sleep
a.      Larks (morning people) and owls (night people) – everyone varies in how much sleep he needs.
b.      If you get more sleep, you learn better, particularly procedural learning. (119)
c.      One night’s loss of sleep can result in 30% loss in overall cognitive skill.
d.      Even when you sleep, your brain is still processing.  So loss of sleep hurts focus and brain function.
8.      Stress
a.      Stress affects our immune response.
b.      Stress harms declarative memory (things you can declare) and executive function (the type of thinking that involves problem-solving). (131)
c.      “Stressed brains don’t learn the same way as non-stressed brains.” (136)
d.      Conflict impacts performance.  So, if students are in a stressful, conflict-filled home, they are unable to concentrate in school. (136)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Brain Rules by John Medina (Rules 1-4)

I've had this book on my to-read list for a while and when Barnes and Noble offered it on the Nook for $2.99, I purchased it.  Medina is a developmental molecular biologist and explains in plain English how our brain works.  I've summarized each rule here and included a little about impact for teachers/schools.  The post was too long, so I divvied it up into three posts.

1.      Exercise
a.      Exercise can elevate cognitive performance compared to those who are sedentary.
b.      Adolescents who are fit give more cognitive resources to a task and do so for a longer period of time.  (All the more reason to NOT cut P.E. classes!)
c.      Exercise twice a week decreases risk of Alzheimer’s by 60%
2.      Survival
a.      Fighting, feeding, fleeing and reproductive behavior
b.      Over time, we have had to adapt.
c.      “If a teacher can’t hold a student’s interest, knowledge will not be richly encoded in the brain’s database.” (40)
3.      Wiring
a.      When people learn, the wiring in the brain changes. 
b.      The brain is a muscle.  The more you work it, the larger and more complex it will become. (47)
c.      “Students of the same age show a great deal of intellectual variability.” (54)
d.      Smaller schools create better learning environments.
4.      Attention
a.      Our previous experience predicts what we should pay attention to now.  We match patterns/similarities to what we think we’ve seen before. (64)
b.      “Different environments create different expectations.” (58)
c.      Events that create emotion are better remembered than neutral events. (62)
d.      Memory is enhanced by creating associations between concepts.  Help students make connections.
e.      Vocabulary instruction alert:  “Words presented in a logically organized, hierarchical structure are much better remembered than words placed randomly-typically 40% better.” (66)
f.       The brain can’t multitask.  Interruptions lead to errors or make it longer to complete a task.
g.      Our attention span is about ten minutes, so follow the 10-2 rule.  For every ten minutes of lecture, allow two minutes of processing time.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Hate List by Jennifer Brown

High school is supposed to be fun and filled with great memories.  Not so for Garvin High Class of 2009.  In May of their junior year, a classmate opens fire in the Commons area, killing six students and a teacher.  Then, Nick Levil turns the gun on himself.  What Nick leaves behind is much pain and a long road to recovery for these students.

Nick and his girlfriend, Valerie, were bullied by other students.  As a way to cope, they created a ‘Hate List’ with the names of those who hurt or made fun of them.  What started as a way to vent their frustrations turned into a hit list for Nick.

Was Valerie privy to Nick’s plan?  If not, has she missed signs that could have prevented Nick from carrying out this awful tragedy?  Is Valerie partially to blame?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink

A few years ago, I read A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink and was quite intrigued by cultivating my right-brain, creative side.  It’s hard to outsource creativity.  (Read my posts here about that book.)  So, when Pink published Drive, of course I wanted to read it!  What motivates people?  According to Pink, in most cases money isn’t the motivator!  How can we use these studies to motivate ourselves and our students? 
  • Work these days is heuristic and not algorithmic; meaning it’s less routine and more creative.
  • People want to direct their own work and be more self-direct rather than rely on a management hierarchy.
  • Rewarding work (the carrot and the stick)
    • Contingent rewards (if-then), yield poor results
      • For the short term, you might see a boost, but for the long term it worsens
      • Contingent rewards are not for creative work; it actually stifles creativity by narrowing the focus
      • Giving a reward may signal the task is undesirable
      • If you reward a task once, you have to reward always and may even have to increase reward
    • Now-that rewards keep creativity because you aren’t telling people up front that there’s a reward
      • Non-tangible rewards are best in a now-that scenario. 
      • Consider praise and/or specific feedback as a reward.
  • Employees (and students?) want autonomy over the Four Ts (Chapter 4)
    • Task – What to do
    • Time – How/when to spend time
    • Technique – How to complete task
    • Team – With whom to work
    • This would be pretty easy to do in a classroom – Can we say Readers’-Writers’ Workshop?!
  • Consider a Results Only Work Environment (R.O.W.E.) a la` Best Buy.  Doesn’t matter how/when you do it, as long as it gets done well.
  • 20% time a la` Google – Employees choose how to spend 20% of their work time.  They choose which work-related projects to pursue.  This 20% time at Google led to Gmail, Google Talk and Google News, among others.  If 20% is too big a place to start, think about 10% or one afternoon per month.  I can definitely see classroom implications for this!
  • Mastery is a mindset (Carol Dweck) (Chapter 5)
    • When setting goals, set learning goals instead of achievement goals.  Achievement goals tend to be too narrow and folks could do more.
    • Mastery is hard and takes grit/determination/perseverance.
    • Mastery takes deliberate practice, but most people want to get better.
  • Purpose versus profit. (Chapter 6)
    • People are more motivated by having a purpose.
    • People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
    • Am I better today than I was yesterday?

 I see some educational implications of this book, like allowing students choice of assignments, choice of groups/team, etc.  I was also glad to see Dweck’s growth mindset cited.  Intelligence isn’t fixed and with hard work and dedication, one can grow.  We can hold ALL students to high standards.  While I don’t think this book is the end-all, be-all, he does make some good points to consider.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reflections on Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ TEDxNYED talk

  • What are we preparing our students for?
  • Strategic replacements/upgrades of outdated curriculum
    • Updates are replacements of outdated content, skills and assessments
  • Media, global and digital literacy – what is it and what does it look like?
  • Students are processing information differently.
  • Most learning isn’t linear.
  • Every school should have at least 3 benchmark assessments where students get to “be” a futurist and/or practice new genre(s).
  • Have student develop the rubrics – What does a quality __________ (blog, podcast, wiki, etc.) look like?
  • New School Versions
    • Schedule – What types of schedules would best help kids?
    • Student grouping – Why do we always need 3rd graders together?
    • Personnel grouping – Why are we only meeting with our content area/department?
    • Space (virtual and physical) – Virtual Learning Magnets (Tom Welsh)
Quite a bit to think about here.  I'm particularly struck by asking students to define quality work!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Write Fifteen Minutes A Day

What a great challenge!  I was just talking with a colleague (and part of my PLN) last week.  I was lamenting about how I have not done much writing since school was out.  Best laid plans and all…when WHAM!  This blog post comes to my feed reader:  Write Fifteen Minutes A Day, from none other than Laurie Halse Anderson.  Squee!

I’m in, are you?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Teaching in the 21st Century: Digital Media

How do we use technology to change (improve?) teaching and learning?  First, we must recognize that our students are social and learn collaboratively.  They are used to creating content online, not just consuming content.  How do we use this to our advantage in the classroom?  And more importantly how do we focus on the content and not the technology?  The technology should be invisible.

A few summers ago I had an opportunity to attend a workshop by Sara Kajder and she always put the majority of the instruction on the content/product and let students figure out the technology to get there.  For example, if students are creating a digital story.  They spend 3-5 days drafting and creating their story.  They spend one day finding the images and creating the final digital product.  That way the focus is on process, not product.

This video was quite interesting:

I want to allow options for students to work together and share their thinking and learning while using technology – to be producers of content.  Maybe this is a wiki, or a blog, or a podcast…it could work with practically any technology.  I just want the focus to be on collaborating and sharing their learning.  By working together, individual expertise becomes collective expertise through interaction with peers and/or community members.  Digital media allows guided, real-time experiences like location/placed-based learning.

“Digital media is changing the ecology of reading and writing.” – James Gee

What are some ways you do this in your classroom?

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson

Ginny’s adventure continues when she gets notification that the last (lost in Greece) letter has been found.  She returns to London to retrieve the 13th envelope and follow Aunt Peg’s final instructions.  The journey continues with Keith, the love interest in the first book, and a new young man, Oliver, who found the lost letter.  When Oliver seems to be less than kind, Keith agrees to join Ginny in completing the tasks for the final letter.   Not sure if a third book in the series is planned, but the author definitely leaves the ending open for another book.

  Themes:  identity, friendship/relationships, discovery

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Some say just before death your life flashes before your eyes.  Others see a bright light in their final moments.  High school senior Samantha Kingston gets to pay more attention than most as she relives her final day over and over again.  Sam’s life ends in a car accident after a party one Friday night in February.  However, the next morning she awakes to discover that she’s reliving February 12 again.  What will she do differently?  How will she change her actions?  Will these changes impact the outcome of her life and the lives of those around her?  I did get bogged down in the middle of this book, but greatly appreciated the journey Sam took to her final day(s).

Has some profanity and alludes to sexual situations – more appropriate for high school readers.

Themes:  relationships, death, bullying, redemption, forgiveness

Friday, July 1, 2011

Goals: Update

Wow, can you believe that one half of 2011, is over?!  Or, I could say that only one half of 2011 remains.  Touché.  It’s time to do a goals progress update and see how I’m doing.

  1. Get published.
Rejected.  Again.  In the fall of 2010, we were rejected by ASCD’s Educational Leadership.  Now we’ve been rejected by NCTE’s Language Arts.  It’s back to the drawing board for a major rewrite and/or to find another journal for publication consideration.  I’ll admit I feel a little stalled at this point.

  1. Read more books.  (Goal of 50 in 2011)
To date, I have read ­­­­­­­­­­­­­35 books.  That’s an average of 5.8 books per month.  If I keep up this pace, I’ll read 70 books this year, which well exceeds my goal.  Granted, six of these books were picture books, but even if you subtract those from the list, I’ve read 29 and that’s over half-way to my goal of 50.

  1. Blog more often.  (Goal of three times per month)
            I knocked this one out of the park!  Whoot!
April = 4 posts
May = 9 posts
June = 7 posts
That’s an average of 6.67 per month!  I have exceeded the standard.

I've never been one to write down my goals (personal or professional), but having something written does allow me to revisit and reevaluate periodically.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Reflections on 2010-2011

As the school year draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on my work this year.  As you know, it was my first year in a new district and school.  The school has had Literacy Instructional Coaches in the past, so most of the teachers were familiar with the coaching model.
I spent the first five to six months of the school year facilitating multiple Learning Teams of mixed content teachers (science, social studies and language arts).  There were about 30 teachers across the three teams.  These teams met twice weekly for professional development and lesson planning.  The professional development topics were chosen from weak performance areas on our state standardized tests.  Topics included:  cause-effect text structure, headings, inferring, identifying author’s purpose, evaluating website credibility and using context clues (vocabulary/word study).  The staff development sessions led to a common language and structure around these skills.  The hope was that students would encounter the same structure of say, inference, in multiple contents and contexts throughout their day.  The raw scores of our 2011 test are back, but we do not have access to specific item analysis yet, so I can’t judge the effectiveness of this approach.
For the last three to four months of school, there were no Learning Teams.  (Long story; don’t ask.)  I spent time working with teachers to continue the work that started in Learning Teams.  I also reached out to some teachers who needed additional support in their classrooms.  For some, this involved weekly planning sessions.  For others, it involved co-teaching multiple times per week.
Mainly in the second half of the school year, I facilitated a team of language arts teachers in a major revision of our curriculum maps.  This was a HUGE undertaking and we spent months completing this work.  Knowing that the revised curriculum maps would include Readers’-Writers’ Workshop as the main instructional format, the Literacy Coaches developed several staff development sessions to boost teachers’ comfort level.  We presented an overview of Readers’-Writers’ Workshop (format, structure, routines, common language, etc.).  We hosted a make-and-take session centered on Readers’-Writers’ Notebooks so teachers could add to their notebooks all summer and use it as a model for students in the fall.  Lastly, I presented an overview session of Literature Circles as our district is moving away from the whole-class novel.
All told, this was a good year.  I know there were missed opportunities, but with coaching, building relationships and trust is vital to having difficult conversations.  I think next year I would be able to go more deeply with my staff and see a greater level of growth.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Who wouldn’t love a year of study abroad? How about your senior year of high school? You would have to leave all your friends and everyone you know to travel to a country whose language you don’t speak. You would have to start over.

Anna from Atlanta (ha, ha!) gets to spend her senior year of high school at a boarding school in Paris.  The problem is, it wasn’t her idea.  Anna’s dad is a popular romance novelist and with his new money has come a concern to keep up appearances.  He decides to send Anna to the prestigious School of America’s in Paris.

Anna doesn’t even speak French, she took Spanish at her old high school in Atlanta. She doesn't want to leave her friends or her little brother, Sean. Faced with new situations, Anna must adapt and thankfully, her new neighbor, Meredith, invites Anna to join her group of friends.  There’s Rashmi, the beautiful Indian girl who’s dating Josh, the Senator’s son and a talented artist.  Then, there’s Etienne St. Clair, the gorgeous, charming boy who lives on the floor above Anna and Meredith.  Everyone’s in love with St. Clair, but he has a girlfriend.

Anna grows to love Paris, learns to speak French, learns a ton about herself and finds her true love. 

Although not a totally predictable romance, it’s still a romance that kept me up until 1am reading. The characters are complex and it is very well-written, especially for YA.

Themes:  friendship/relationships, loneliness, love

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Planning for Summer (Reading and Writing)

As we wrap up the school year (whoo, hoo!), it's time to think of our plans for summer reading and writing and set some goals. I created a document (click to see Google Doc) to assist teachers and students in planning and setting goals for the summer.

I am also wondering how this can translate into the first weeks of school in the fall. Will students have an opportunity to share their writing? How about give a book talk about their summer reading? What will that look like?

Anybody have goals for summer reading and writing you’d like to share?

Monday, June 6, 2011

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

Are you a risk taker? Would you take an adventure without knowing where you are going, who you will meet and what you will learn? This is what happens to 17-year-old Virginia Blackstone. Ginny’s aunt, Peg, abruptly leaves New York with no explanation. A while later, the family learns that Aunt Peg has passed away. Ginny receives a package in the mail containing 13 little blue envelopes and instructions to board a plane for London and open an envelope for further instructions. Aunt Peg has an adventure in store for Ginny, but is Ginny up for the challenge?

Themes: risk-taking, relationships, family, trust

Sequel:  The Last Little Blue Envelope

Saturday, June 4, 2011

PLN: Book Study - Focus Summary

In order to FOCUS, we must have:
  • A sound, coherent curriculum, with fewer standards.
  • Rich, engaging lessons. (modeling, guided practice, checks for understanding)
  • Meaningful reading and writing in all content areas.
We need teams of teachers, working together to monitor the implementation of the above. Until we do these things well, we should do nothing else.
If you had to evaluate your school today, how Focused are you?

Friday, June 3, 2011

PLN: Book Study - Focus, Chapter 7

Data shows that more students fail in math than any other subject. If we want students to be “confident, comfortable, knowledgeable users of math,” we must give math meaning for students.

Chapter 7: Making Math Meaningful
  • Reduce the number of standards by 50% (201). Recruit math and science professionals to review the standards with teachers.
  • Use effective teaching strategies:
    • Modeling, guided practice, checks for understanding
  • Create and integrate opportunities for students to apply essential math concepts. (202)
  • Integrate reading, writing, and discussion into problem solving, application, and interpretation.” (202)
  • Students should have 15-20 opportunities per year to read current articles and see math in action.
  • These articles should contain raw information or data and students should be asked to “make inferences, support arguments, and draw conclusions” using these sources. (207)
  • Close, slow reading of the textbook would allow students to “hone their ‘technical reading’ ability from texts that include procedures, directions, and instructional manuals.” (208)
  • Writing is a powerful tool for problem solving. Students should be asked to explain, interpret or evaluate a solution in writing.

A major point in this chapter might ruffle some feathers. Schmoker advocates for states to “suspend the requirement for Algebra II until we reexamine the need for it.” (200) Many professionals in the math and science community do not utilize much Algebra. We should focus on essential, practical math standards. Schmoker asks, “would it be sewer to replace seem of our advanced courses with applied math, statistics, or data analysis of the kind that actually gets used in the working world?” (199) The thought is that students would be able to apply more basic math skills to complex situations and problems they will find in the workplace and the world.